Editorial by John Ziegler

A Proposed Compromise on the 10 Commandments

3/17/2002 11:33:54 PM

Several months ago I was walking past the Chester County Courthouse and I noticed the plaque that has since become the source of so much controversy. I was shocked that a version of the "10 Commandments" was prominently displayed on the outside wall of such a public place. I immediately wondered if there had ever been a lawsuit involving the plate, with my initial inclination being that it did not belong there.

With that background, as a committed agnostic who is also a strong advocate of civil liberties and the First Amendment, I hardly fall into the profile of someone who would be against the recent federal court ruling that the posting must come down. However, I am.

Don't get me wrong. This is a tough call. But I strongly believe that most of the real issues have been either distorted or evaded by the parties involved.

The opponents of the "The Commandments" on the courthouse wall say that it violates the First Amendment's guarantee of "separation between church and state." There is just one little problem. Nothing like those words appear anywhere in the First Amendment. In fact, the framers clearly intended the amendment to prevent government from intruding on religion and not the other way around.

Since the version (one of three adaptations generally accepted by Christians and Jews) of the “10 Commandments” that has hung on the courthouse wall for the last 82 years does not mention Jesus Christ, it is hard to claim that it is fundamentally "dominational" in its essence. If simply using "God" makes the message inherently unconstitutional, then I guess we better get a new form of currency because every greenback in your pocket currently proclaims, "In God We Trust."

The judge ruled that only 84 words of the text "could be fairly regarded as conveying a secular, moral message." While that may, or may not, be true, it is difficult to think of anything that might be a more blatant violation of the spirit of the First Amendment than for a federal judge to go through a passage word by word and determine what is acceptable and what is not.

What makes the sudden prohibition of the historical marker almost comical is that two other signs, which also urge restriction of certain behavior, will be allowed to remain right next to where the "10 Commandants" have been. As funny as it is, I somehow don't think that the founding fathers would be laughing if they saw the postings that ban “smoking” and “skateboarding” (two legal activities) remain, while those against “killing” and “stealing” forced to come down!

I am not saying that there are not any problems with what the plaque says. One of my biggest concerns is that the “Protestant” version of the “10 Commandments” (which is the one that is in question) clearly states that the earth was created in just six days. Government sponsorship of “God” is one thing, promotion of the long ago discredited theory of “Creationism” is quite another.

But the really strange part of the “10 Commandments” is that, for a set of rules that have been so revered for so long by so many people, the thought process behind them is so amazingly poor.

In fact, the term “10 Commandments” is a complete misnomer. The way I figure it, there are really only seven commandments At least three of the famous ten are clearly redundant (not to mention indicative of an extremely narcissistic God).

Why is there a need for “make no graven image” when you have already been told, “have no other Gods before me”? Aren't “thou shalt not commit adultery” and “thou shalt not steal” already covered by “thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods”? (Interesting, the courthouse rendering specifically includes “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass,” which wouldn't seem too difficult for the modern man, unless his neighbor happened to also be a supermodel.)

So while I fail to see the unconstitutionality of posting some form of “10 Commandments,” I do wish there was a “better” version upon which more of us could agree. To that end, I humbly submit this compromise.

<table border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" align="center"><tr><td><ol><li><b> Don't Lie</b></li>
<li><b>Don't Steal</b></li>
<li><b>Don't hurt/harm other</b></li>
<li><b> Don't commit adultery</b></li>
<li><b>Respect your elders</b></li>
<li><b>Keep yourself healthy &amp; don't rely on drugs</b></li>
<li><b>Get an education</b></li>
<li><b>Be polite</b></li>
<li><b>Be loyal and loving to those who deserve it</b></li>
<li><b>Believe in something larger than yourself </b></li></ol></td></tr></table>This Column appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News

Return to Editorials >>

Search JohnZiegler.com